The Championship is back, so it’s a full billing of fixtures this weekend and EFL pundit Gab Sutton is back with his best bets.
18+ | BeGambleAware.org
Norwich City v Sheffield United
Sheffield United to win
In normal circumstances, a draw for Sheffield United at Carrow Road would be a perfectly acceptable result.
In this instance, they’ve got Burnley away on Easter Monday, a game in which the Clarets will still be playing to get over the promotion line: a point at Turf Moor would be a great result, and it might be difficult to expect more than that.
Even if the Blades beat Wigan, on Good Friday, there is the risk of them dropping points twice in a three-game sequence, which might not be something they can afford to do at this stage – especially if they lose in East Lancashire.
Automatic promotion rivals Middlesbrough are going along like an express train, having won eight of their last 10 league games: Boro, too, have to play Norwich and Burnley soon, but both those games are at home.
As such, it’s important that United attack the game in Norfolk and that’s what we could see: if Man City loanees Tommy Doyle and James McAtee bring their A-game, likewise Sander Berge and Iliman Ndiaye, they have a great chance against a Norwich side that struggles against the big hitters.
The Canaries’ individual quality has typically seen them to victory against midtable sides and strugglers, but it’s seven points from nine games against top six opposition.
One of those points came at Bramall Lane back in October, thanks to a couple of breakaway goals from Teemu Pukki, who capitalized on opposition errors, but the Blades had the better of that game – especially in the second half.
Doyle came on for John Fleck in the second half that day and completely changed the game, since then he’s not only overtaken the United stalwart in the pecking order, but also Oli Norwood, who may have to settle for a place on the bench.
Norwood remains an admirable mentor to the 5’8” prospect, and is always encouraging and supporting his teammate whilst keeping him focused, even though they’re supposedly positional rivals.
However, Doyle brings more athleticism and dynamism to his midfield role, and will bring a different dimension for Norwich to think about if McAtee, Ndiaye and Berge can be nullified.
“Norwich have taken seven points from nine encounters with top six opposition this season, while Sheffield United have rediscovered some form with three wins in five – and may have the luxury of having promotion-specialist Oli Norwood on the bench, such are the recent contributions of Tommy Doyle.”Gab Sutton
West Bromwich Albion v Millwall
Double Chance: Draw/Millwall
West Brom’s home form is keeping them, just about, in Play-Off contention.
Since Carlos Corberan took charge in late October, the Baggies have won seven of 11 on familiar soil, conceding a mere three goals.
Albion are creating more chances under Corberan, they have far clearer patterns of play, and it’s a shame that their form in the first three months gave them so much to catch up on in order to break into the top six.
Nonetheless, the West Midlanders don’t have a dominant centre-back, they don’t have quick, attacking wing-backs with quality, and while the signing of Marc Albrighton was received positively by some, Jed Wallace’s form has dropped off since he moved into a central role.
Albion’s main selling point is the midfield pairing of Okay Yokuslu and Jayson Molumby, plus fit again goalkeeper Josh Griffiths.
However, there’s every chance we see a reaction from Millwall, who have had two weeks to stew over the disappointing 1-0 home loss to strugglers Huddersfield before the international break.
The Lions have one of the best defences in the Championship, they have made one of the signings of the season in Zian Flemming, and have means to freshen things up by bringing the pace of Duncan Watmore into their attack.
Meanwhile, Gary Rowett’s side have the league’s fifth-top goalscorer in Tom Bradshaw, who has 14 for the season and will be out to do damage once again.
“Sure, West Brom’s home form is fantastic, but Millwall have only lost 12 of their 38 league games all season, so to get odds a shade under Evens on them to avoid defeat seems great value – especially with Zian Flemming in sumptuous form.”Gab Sutton
Derby County v Ipswich Town
Ipswich win to nil
Derby have stumbled in their quest for a top six berth, losing three of their last four league games, including a 2-0 defeat at Play-Off rivals Peterborough last time out.
The Posh were four points off the Rams going into that game, but the gap is now just the one, while encouragement has been given to the likes of Wycombe and Portsmouth.
It’s easy to say Paul Warne’s side should be challenging the top two, as they had threatened to up to mid-February, based on the quality of Eiran Cashin, Max Bird, Conor Hourihane and David McGoldrick.
This squad, though, has been assembled very haphazardly, because the takeover from David Clowes happened very close to the start of the season and the club didn’t have much time to construct a streamlined squad.
As such, they don’t have an aerially dominant centre-back, they don’t have natural full-backs, they don’t have an alternative to deep-lying playmaker Max Bird or front-man James Collins: whenever either has been absent or dropped, the players filling in just aren’t suited to the role.
From that perspective, Warne did well to very quickly mould this side into a competitive unit that put a tremendous run together, but some of the issues that have been there all season are starting to catch up with them.
Ipswich, meanwhile, have a more streamlined squad, great organisation and clear patterns of play.
There’s a real balance to this Town side, because when Leif Davis flies forward from left-back, Cameron Burgess, Luke Woolfenden and Harry Clarke can shuffle across to forge an interim back-three, even if the predominant formation is 4-2-3-1.
Since Nathan Broadhead has come into the side, he’s reduced some of the workload for Davis – who offers incredible pace and stamina – by grafting in the channels and offering a vertical option – allowing Conor Chaplin and George Hirst to attack the box.
Similarly, when Wes Burns goes forward, Davis tucks in more and Harry Clarke supports from behind, Chaplin drifts over to link-up and Broadhead is the one breaking into the box to get to the back-post.
There’s a smooth synergy about this Ipswich team that sets them apart from Derby, and that could show at Pride Park.
“Ipswich have not conceded in 686 minutes of league football: their defence has been imperious lately, and it’s put them in the automatic promotion hunt. Derby have quality, but it’s once again looking like a Rams side that was cobbled together late in the summer, without much of a plan or design.”Gab Sutton
Leyton Orient v Carlisle United
Leyton Orient to win
Leyton Orient are unbeaten in their last nine league games, a run that has taken them to eight points clear in the automatic promotion race with a game in hand.
The O’s have drawn their previous four, but the fact promotion rivals Carlisle are winless in three, and Stevenage have dropped points recently too, means they’re still in an excellent position.
If Richie Wellens’ side can secure victory on Saturday, it would leave them 11 points clear of fourth, and needing just another 11 points from their remaining eight games to rubber-stamp promotion.
Orient need to find another gear, though, after underwhelming performances against Colchester and Hartlepool.
Wellens has the means to freshen things up, though, with Kieran Sadlier and Charlie Kelman in the mix to come in, while Idris El Mizouni and George Moncur at their best can be hard to stop
El Mizouni is a delightful ball-carrier, while Moncur is arguably the most creative player in the league.
Carlisle will hope they can have some joy in this game by playing on the counter-attack, with Owen Moxon attempting his Hollywood through balls which can often come off.
Moxon, though, has a pass completion of 52% and when his killer balls don’t materialize, it can be a little bit wasteful, and there’s a chance Orient will have their moments to sustain pressure.
The O’s have a formidable centre-back pairing of Omar Beckles and Ed Turns, so this could be the day they take another giant stride toward League One.
“Leyton Orient have the chance to extend their unbeaten run into double-figures, but Carlisle will go into the automatic spots if they end that sequence, with Northampton and Stevenage playing one another. I think the leaders get their first win in five, though.”Gab Sutton
Northampton Town v Stevenage
Stevenage to win 1-0
Northampton are League Two’s form side, having won five of their last seven league games, all to nil.
Manager Jon Brady deserves huge credit, because it’s been a difficult time in terms of injuries and suspension, which has taken the total of absentees into double-figures at one point, yet nobody would have guessed it based on results and performances.
The Cobblers have beaten Crawley, Mansfield and Crewe 1-0 in recent games, yet created enough chances in them to score three or four, without looking like conceding themselves.
After last week’s 2-0 victory at Doncaster, Teyn have a glorious opportunity to take the gap to five points – if they beat Stevenage, and Carlisle lose at Orient.
Five points, with seven games to play, would be a significant advantage for Northampton, but they could also finish the day outside the top three if they lose and Carlisle win at Brisbane Road.
It’s such a high-stakes game, for them and visitors Stevenage, who themselves are at risk of finishing the day outside the top three for the first time all season.
Brady, though, has two years of experience in management, while Boro boss Steve Evans started out with Stamford in 1994.
Since then, he’s won seven promotions, including two with Rotherham, and has plenty of experience of the big games: at this stage, prestige, knowhow and muscle memory counts for a lot.
Plus, Evans can bring star defender Terence Vancooten back into the XI, and the stalwart’s athleticism and ball-playing quality could make a huge difference, between the imperious Dan Sweeney and Carl Piergianni.
“With three wins in 11, Stevenage are not in the richest vein of form right now, but what they’ve accomplished over the season means I have a huge amount of faith in that group of players, and manager Steve Evans. Northampton are great, but I’m predicting an Evans masterclass and a 1-0 Boro win.”Gab Sutton